Before I call the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant), I shall indicate the practice regarding additional Adjournment debates. If an hon. Member uses the opportunity—because it is not yet 10.30 p.m.—of seeking another Adjournment debate, it is the practice to see whether he can get a Minister to reply—otherwise there is no purpose in speaking to an empty Chamber.Page 285 of "Erskine May" makes it clear that the Chair deprecates the introduction of such subjects in instances where due notice has not been given to the Minister concerned. I take it that the hon. Member has given due or some other kind of notice but has been unsuccessful in getting a Minister to attend.
I want to speak on the unsatisfactory nature of highway planning procedures. Following the very clear ruling that you have given, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should tell you that an hour ago I rang the Department of the Environment and got from it an agreement that I could raise this subject. I rang again half an hour ago and was told that there was considerable difficulty in getting hold of the Minister. However, the Department assured me that it was trying to get the Minister. Whether he is about to arrive, I do not know, but I did get an assurance from the Department that it would try to have a Minister here.Perhaps it will be right if I speak very briefly on this important subject of the unsatisfactory nature of highway planning procedure, and hope that a Minister will come in time to reply. I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to introduce Adjournment debates, so I suggest that I should speak now so that when the Minister arrives he can hear that part of my speech. If he does not arrive, then the Minister handling the next debate will be able to carry on from there.
The problem is, of course, that one can hardly regard half an hour or even an hour as due notice. Ministers have engagements. While the Department has promised to try to locate a Minister, obviously it has been unsuccessful. I have read out the relevant part of "Erskine May", which shows that in the past the Chair has deprecated the holding of an Adjournment debate when there is no Minister to reply, and I deprecate it now.If the Minister were to come in at the end of the hon. Member's speech, he would not hear the arguments, and that makes it rather awkward. It is difficult to reply to a speech that he has not heard. He might find himself talking about an entirely different aspect of the subject. However, the right remains—and this is the essential point—that, Minister or no Minister and with the Chair deprecating it, if the hon. Member insists he may continue with his contribution.
I hope that while deprecating it officially, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will feel that I am not out of order in taking the opportunity to say a few very brief words on this subject. I believe that the conduct of inquiries on road planning has been appalling in these past few years. I believe that the whole country is distressed at what is happening.We should all congratulate the inspectors who, in extremely difficult circumstances, have carried out these public inquiries. They have carried them out, as we saw last week, at considerable physical danger to themselves. Therefore the House should send them warm congratulations and a message indicating very strongly that the minority who seek to abuse the right of the public at inquiries by their arrogance and behaviour are doing this country no good at all. Nor will the majority of people who believe in democracy allow the arrogant minority to succeed in their thuggery. Nor is there any question, as has been clearly shown, of this behaviour making the inspectors alter the course of their decisions. We know that there have been cases of the public not being satisfied by the public inquiry procedure. The main cause for complaint about the procedure is set out in a booklet from the Department of the Environment issued in July 1974 which says:
The main objection of the British public is that it is the Secretary of State for Transport who employs the inspectors. I believe that the British people are not satisfied with that situation. The Minister for Planning and Local Government was asked about the matter on 4th August 1976, and that passage is set out in column 1713 of Hansard. The Minister then refused to give any firm answers and referred to a review of the public inquiry procedure. It is the final responsibility of the Secretary of State whether he accepts the result put forward by the inquiry and by the inspector. I am in complete agreement with that, because there can be many circumstances after the inquiry has taken place which may alter the view of the Secretary of State. I should like to put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that motor improvements have brought a great enrichment of life to millions of people who live in cities, whose roads have caused pollution and contain many undesirable elements that affect, for one instance, children going to school. In my constituency in Chapel-en-le- Frith and Whaley Bridge there is a problem whether a bypass should be provided. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to bring to your notice—"An inquiry into a road proposal is not a court of law nor is the inspector a judge. An inquiry is held so that the public may have an opportunity to put to the inspector their views on the proposals, either for or against, and the Secretary of State can be informed by the inspector of all the material facts, points of view and arguments before reaching his decision. The inspector is given all relevant correspondence from the objectors to the proposal, and other interested parties so that he will be fully informed in conducting the inquiry and making his recommendations to the Secretary of State."
There is no sense in bringing it to my notice, because I have no ministerial responsibility.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like it to be known that I personally feel that the people of Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley Bridge would benefit enormously from the provision of a bypass. I equally feel for the people on the surrounding land that is now blighted by a potential inquiry and who cannot sell their houses and consequently are suffering considerably as a result of this present situation.What do I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Perhaps I should not put that question to you, but I should state my views on this matter. I believe that public inquiries should be held under the independent auspices of the Lord Chancellor's Office. I believe that such public inquiries should possess the powers of courts. Equally, I believe that payment for legal expenses should be made to private individuals who wish to object. At the moment it is wrong that a private individual who has good cause to object is not able to do so because he cannot afford it. Such people are fighting against the wealth of vast municipal organisations and in some cases against industry. Finally, I wish to say that I hope that this matter will be pursued speedily because these problems should not hang about for so many years.